Maybe you should think twice about investing millions in that fancy new performing arts building to revitalize your city. While Richard Florida has long de-emphasized such large-scale investments, professor Mark Stern, Co-Director of the Urban Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania provides a detailed answer below to the question, “Well then, now what?”
“While the arts are commerce, they revitalize cities not through their bottom-line but through their social role. The arts build ties that bind – neighbor-to-neighbor and community-to-community. It is these social networks that translate cultural vitality into economic dynamism.
Culture generates many types of social networks. When artists work with eight or nine different organizations during the year – as many do, they build networks. When community residents are involved in arts programs as well as churches, civic associations, and book clubs, they build networks. When a community development organization reaches out simultaneously to downtown financial institutions and local residents, it builds a network.”
What happens when creatives build a social network? You’d be fortunate to experience a natural cultural district.
A natural cultural district is a geographically-defined social network created by the presence of a density of cultural assets in a particular neighborhood. Descriptively, a “natural” cultural district simply identifies a neighborhood that has naturally, organically spawned a density of unique cultural assets – organizations, businesses, participants, and artists – that sets it apart from other neighborhoods.
“Analytically, these districts are of interest because of density’s side-effects. Economic developers note that clusters encourage innovation and creativity – a spur to cultural production. At the same time, a cluster of cultural assets often pushes a neighborhood to a regeneration tipping-point, attracting new services and residents.
What is striking about this phenomenon is that it occurs without policy intent.”
Read more in Mark’s paper, Cultivating “Natural” Cultural Districts.
Image: Nightlife in Old City, Philadelphia, by B. Krist.